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story.lead_photo.caption California sophomore Kent Riley (77) is part of a Pintos defensive line that has put together a string of good performances the last three games. Photo by Carter Mulvihill / News Tribune.

CALIFORNIA, Mo. — The best way to get over a tough loss is to play another football game.

So for a 1-4 California team that's trying to move past not one, but two heartbreaking defeats, tonight's game at Hallsville should have double the significance.

"The losses we've had the last couple weeks have been pretty hard to swallow," California coach Marty Albertson said. "Hopefully we can just take them and learn from what we did in the game and try to improve on things."

While last week's 15-8 loss to Eldon didn't have the drama of the Pintos' Week 4 defeat at Versailles, California was prone to giving up big plays, two of which put the Mustangs in the end zone.

In what figures to be another close game tonight against the Indians, one big play could swing things entirely. For that reason, mentality will be a factor for both teams, especially in the second half.

"You have to coach positively and get their enthusiasm and confidence up," Albertson said. "Any time you go through a stretch where you're losing some close games, it's tough to keep them mentally prepared to go out and play their best game."

Like California, Hallsville (2-3) enters tonight with a losing streak. No team has had a tougher slate to start Tri-County Conference play than the Indians, who are coming off losses to School of the Osage, Southern Boone and Blair Oaks.

The Indians opened the year with a pair of non-conference wins, defeating Putnam County and Mark Twain. As a team that hasn't stuck to a singular gameplan this season, Hallsville enters tonight with a bit of mystery on its side.

"They probably run 10 or 11 different formations," Albertson said. "They try to get you in outmanned at the point of attack."

One formation the Indians will likely bring out is a spread passing attack revolving around a trio of sophomores. Quarterback Zane Parnell and wide receivers B.J. Fisher and Cole Hubbard — all sophomores — got off to a quick start to the season, but have slowed down after a pair of consecutive 41-point losses to Southern Boone and Blair Oaks, respectively.

California's defense has still yet to be tested through the air this season. Eldon only completed two passes last week, but one of them went for a 53-yard score.

On the flip side, California's passing attack was finally on display against the Mustangs. After throwing for 221 yards on 33 completions in the first four games, Pintos quarterback Jacob Wolken totaled 147 yards through the air on 15-for-30 passing.

Though the California offense had been almost entirely run-based in the early part of the year, the Pintos may be gravitating to a more balanced attack, something they've typically had throughout Albertson's six years at the helm.

"We knew we'd have to throw the ball against Eldon because they were pretty big up front and geared to stop the run," Albertson said. "I like to be balanced, truthfully. I think the rest of the year you'll see a more balanced attack of run and pass."

For the Pintos tonight, the biggest test will simply be playing a 48-minute game, something California hasn't done in any of its four losses.

The Pintos can look at any game they've played this season and find a half of football where they performed well. In a matchup where one good half won't cut it, the difference may be in the discipline for California.

"We had a few penalties early that stopped offensive drives and even on defense we had a couple offsides penalties that extended their drives," Albertson said. "We need to cut out those mental mistakes and play all four quarters. If we do that, we should be fine."

California at Hallsville

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Podcast Preview: California Pintos Football Podcast [Hallsville preview, Sept. 23, 2016]

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